Another coup for the Hardliners
17 Jun 2009 02:52
By MEA CYRUS in London | 12 June 2009
What happened at the polls today was sadly predictable. One strong indication right from the start was that the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made his decision to put all his power behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Here are a few signs that were clearly posted along the way:
Ahmadinejad continued his highly controversial verbal attacks on former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, even though some claim Khamenei blasted him in public after a particularly heated televised debate between him and former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.
While some believed the supreme leader has called on all the candidates to tone down the attacks on one another--for instance, he was crystal clear when he chided Mousavi for saying Iran's image has been tarnished in the world by Ahmadinejad--Mr. Khamenei did not use his authority to show he meant business.
One of the supreme leader's favorite channels of communication with other politicians, apart from his sharp speeches, is Kayhan newspaper. It is widely known in Iran that Hossein Shariatmadari, Khamenei's representative at Kayhan Press Institute, has not only the Ayatollah's ears, but also serves as his mouthpiece.
When Kayhan, in its first edition after the debate, criticized only Mousavi for his comments during the debate, and afforded Ahmadinejad the right to defend himself, it was a clear signal that the controversial attacks would continue. Two days after the debate, on another live televised show, Ahmadinejad continued to skewer Rafsanjani--using stronger language this time. Quoting the Shia's venerated Imam Ali, he said these corrupt people should be dragged into the streets and made to hang their heads in shame! And add to that what Ahmadinejad stressed a few hours before his speech in Isfahan: "This is just the beginning!"
Then there was Ahmadinejad's debate with Mehdi Karoubi, another reformist challenger, where the sparks flew and the verbal fistfight continued unabated.
Now why did Ayatollah Khamenei allow such a thing to happen, at such a high level, on so high profile a platform, when he knew all too well the damage it was causing not only to high-ranking regime officials, but to the regime's image and supposed legitimacy?
To curb Rafsanjani's power?
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been a popular target over the past 20 years. His economic reforms after the war have been widely faulted for creating the huge divide between rich and poor in Iran. Rafsanjani has also been accused of appointing family and close relatives to top posts, keeping him in the eyes of the public as the kingmaker in Iran. If judged by the positions Rafsanjani has held over the past 30 years and the influence he had on Ayatollah Khomeini, and Khamenei himself, for quite some time, it's pretty apparent why his power and influence are perceived as a threat in some high circles.
Today Rafsanjani has a firm political foothold by having the Expediency Council and the Council of Experts in his grip. Perhaps the thought of having Mousavi claim the No. 2 position in the country is all the more unsettling for that reason.
Rafsanjani's main enemy now is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Spend a week among IRGC and intelligence personnel in any ordinary mosque in Tehran, and you will hear them talk negatively about Rafsanjani. This animosity has its roots back in the eight-year war and his immense influence among a large number of ayatollahs in Qom who wanted him as head of the Council of Experts and favored him to a degree that the IRGC became concerned about his potential future role should something happen to the Supreme Leader; as it is, Rafsanjani would be the main point of contact on what to do.
This is the key to understanding many elements of the Islamic Republic's politics. IRGC was the main engine behind the smear campaign in the last presidential election. In the absence of real political parties in Iran, the controlled flow of information and huge restrictions on political activities, there is only one network that has a national reach, and able to reach its targets in very short time, and that is the IRGC. The only other strong network that has a similar reach but is not as well organized is the clerical system that appoints and monitors every single prayer imam in Iranian mosques -- both are conservative, but the IRGC is much more efficient. Having military cells in every mosque, called Basij, the IRGC can easily intimidate any prayer imam if one decides to show signs of belligerence. The IRGC even monitors top Ayatollahs that fall out with the regime. It is not a surprise that Ayatollah Montazeri, second in line to Khomeini's position, was put under house arrest and guarded by special units of the IRGC.
IRGC sees itself as the guardian of the whole revolutionary system. They "hate" Rafsanjani in a way no other politician is hated and yet they cannot touch him due to Rafsanjani's craftiness in political games. In his memoirs, Rafsanjani wrote he used to lend money to many clerics before the 1979 revolution and after it. But his personal and family wealth does not bother IRGC very much; his ability to mix wealth with political power does.
Four years ago, Rafsanjani got to know the depth of animosity and disaffection the IRGC holds against him. And since IRGC is only accountable to Ayatollah Khamenei, not the president or the Ministry of Defense, everything IRGC does has the Supreme Leader's seal of approval.
If Ahmadinejad continued his vicious attacks on Rafsanjani and his political allies, it is only because IRGC and Ayatollah Khamenei wanted him to do so. And if Ahmadinejad steals this election--well, do you have to ask?
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau